Mark & Kallam’s Epic South African Golf Tour
By Kallam Craigs
I had been looking forward to this trip ever since I arrived home from my last golf and safari tour of South Africa! It’s often said that rarely does someone visit South Africa just the once, I myself am living proof of that. The combination of stunning scenery, world-class golf courses and warm African hospitality is one that keeps people coming back time and time again, and this trip was no exception. This time around I had the pleasure of an experienced tour guide in the boss man himself, Mark Marais. Mark always likes to get a trip away with each member of the sales staff and very kindly invited me to join himself and six of his good golf buddies on what was a truly epic itinerary.
We started up north this time flying into Johannesburg and making our way to Zebula in Limpopo, about 2 and a half hour’s drive (not quite that long with Mark at the wheel)
Zebula – Golf And Game Out In The Bush!
Zebula is a laid back, casual, golf, game and spa resort where you can get away from the hustle and bustle of the city for a few nights. The staff are extremely friendly, hospitable and will be sure to look after you during your stay.
There was no rest for the wicked as we had organised a match against four South Africans that were friends of a friend of Marks and gave us a very warm welcome when we arrived. It was a case of a quick change of clothes and straight out onto the golf course, I personally would have it no other way! Even though we were just heading into the African winter the sun was beaming down at a delightful 27 degrees, the buggies were loaded up with snacks and cold beers and it was time for our first round of the trip.
The golf course itself at Zebula was in surprisingly good nick considering the level of drought in the area. It lacked the pristinely manicured fairways that you experience down in the Cape, but it’s what you come to expect when you are out in the bush, a more rough and rugged yet still amazing experience altogether. You might find yourself with a couple of unexpected obstacles as you make your way around this lovely golf course. Zebra, Warthogs, Wildebeest and Impala roam the course freely! Giraffe and Elephants have even been known to make an appearance.
Zebula Golf Course
We were clearly feeling the effects of our long flight and our South African opponents showed no sympathy as we went 6 down through 9 holes. We tried to blame it on the jet lag but with only one hour of time difference, they weren’t having any of it! After refilling the beer coolers, we headed back out determined to avoid complete humiliation and make the score at least respectable. We did more than that. We came out with a flurry of beautifully dovetailed holes bringing it all the way back to being just 1 down with 2 to play! Sadly, the dream ended on the 17th green where we shook hands and accepted defeat. In no way did this dampen our spirits as we had had a great opening round with plenty of craic along the way. We played down the 18th in almost total darkness to the point where all four balls were MIA and it was time to retire to the bar.
We headed back to our stunning Bush Villa with the rest of the guys to enjoy a full traditional South African Braai that had been prepared and was waiting for us on arrival! What awaited us was the most amazing spread of steak, lamb chops, oxtail, chicken kebabs which had been grilled to perfection and served with more accompaniments than you could ever imagine. We had great fun discussing team South Africa’s win over team Northern Ireland and the night ended with being introduced to a Poker Dice. A great thinker’s game full of lies, deception and copious amounts of strawberry vodka!
Kallam on the Zebula Course (left) And the famous Zebula Resort Brai (Right)
Elements Golf Course, Limpopo – A Hidden Gem Off The Beaten Path.
The following morning there were a couple of sore heads but nothing a sumptuous home-cooked breakfast couldn’t fix, not to mention the anticipation of our next round of golf at Elements Golf Course. We had heard such great things and couldn’t wait to see it for ourselves.
Many people may never make it to Elements Golf Course in Limpopo due to its extremely remote location. In my eyes, that’s a real shame as I can assure you that every hump and bump on the several miles of dirt roads on the way is worth traversing to get to this hidden treasure.
The further you get into the arid bush landscape the harder it becomes to possibly imagine a luscious green golf course appearing. Then suddenly as you enter Elements Estate something miraculous happens, the land falls away beneath you and like a mirage on the horizon emerald green grass appears. The clubhouse sits perched at the highest point providing a fantastic view over the spectacular looking course and immediately I couldn’t wait to get out there and play. Even the practice ground looked in superb condition with freshly cut, well-manicured target greens. As the sun beat down on us we warmed up for what was surely going to be a brilliant round of golf. The course certainly did not let us down, the layout was wonderfully well thought out with a variety of interesting holes and hazards. It was in immaculate condition throughout with the lightning fast greens running pure at 12.5 on the stimp! Good putts were rewarded by running true on their line but the possibility of 3 putting from 3 feet was real (just ask Mark)!
Hole 5, Zebula Golf Course (Left) & Palace of the Lost City (Right)
The closing holes on each 9 are two of the best I have ever played, anywhere. The 9th is a par 3 which must be played off the back elevated tee. It plays about 180 yards but with a 75-foot elevation drop to a green surrounded with water. Not a tee box where you want to be the first one hitting! The 18th is a long par 5 that has it all. Downhill, double dogleg, an undulating fairway, well-placed fairway bunkers and a green guarded by a large watering hole on the front left. As I struck one of my best drives of the day down the middle a large Kudu wandered out onto the fairway. The ball sailed straight past him as the blood orange sunset in the backdrop, I thought to myself only in Africa could you experience something like this.
After another night in our luxurious and extremely spacious Bush Villa, it was time to make the long yet very straight forward drive to Sun City. It’s on these long drives where highways carve through great plains that you realise just how vast this country is. The roads seem to go on forever into the horizon until the curvature of the Earth takes them out of view, as Mark said to me whilst he was driving, “wake me up when there’s a turn”
Sun City – The Palace of the Lost City
Pulling into Sun City gave me a similar feeling to that of arriving into Disney Land as a child. I was full of excitement to experience the “Vegas of Africa”. Sun City features five different hotels ranging from 3 to 5 star, we were lucky enough to stay in their five-star option, The Palace of The Lost City. The front entrance to The Palace of The Lost City is very grand and almost has a feel of Fantasy about it with its over the top animal inspired water fountain, 20-foot-tall solid front doors and the spires of the Palace in the background.
Entrance- Palace of the Lost City
The interior of the hotel is wonderfully designed with massive high painted ceilings and a true African feel throughout. The rooms matched this with similar stylings and all the comforts you could require for a few nights stay. After arriving we were taken on a full site inspection where we were introduced to all of Sun City’s amazing facilities. Two world-class championship golf courses, 5 hotels with a variety of standards, a huge wave pool and artificial beach, a state of the art conference centre, a casino and a large shopping mall.
That evening we enjoyed a fantastic meal in their Steak House “The Grill Room”. I had the most amazing 18oz Pepper Crusted Prime Rib with Rustic Chips and Béarnaise Sauce, all for less than £20! The value for money when it comes to food and drink is hard to believe in South Africa.
Gary Player Country Club at Sun City
The next morning we played the Gary Player Country Club at Sun City which hosts the prestigious Nedbank challenge every year. It’s a fantastic event which attracts the world’s best golfers who all relish the opportunity to play this magnificent golf course. When played off the back sticks it’s said to be one of the longest and toughest courses on earth, luckily, we opted for the white tees and took caddies as none of us had played the course before. The weather was absolutely perfect, and the course lived up to all expectations, tough but fair. No greater example of this was me shooting +4 for 18 points on the front nine and then collapsing to a total of 7 points on the back nine!
We didn’t get to play the Lost City course but Mark has previously played it and said it’s a less tough but still challenging course and many locals rate it as the better of the two – hard to believe having just played what was a truly amazing golf course.
Lost City Course – Sun City
Our time in the North of the country had come to an end and it was time for us to head down to the Western Cape, starting in Cape Town and working our way down to Knysna.
Cape Town – Radisson Red – Modern, Sleek, Cool and Comfortable
Cape Town really is one of my favourite cities on earth. The stunning scenery framed by Table Mountain combined with the vibrant and warm hospitality of the people is a unique and extremely alluring combination.
Table Top Mountain Hike – Cape Town
We were staying in the Radisson Red in the V&A Waterfront which is the place to be in Cape Town. As soon as we walked into the Radisson Red I knew it was my kind of place, an ultra-modern and trendy place that has a completely laid back and relaxed feel without compromising the level of service in any way. The hotel lobby is filled with modern art also home to a ping pong and foosball table where the staff are more than happy to give you a game!
Radisson Red, Cape Town – Hotel Lobby
The rooms themselves were just like the hotel itself, modern, sleek, clean and comfortable with all of the amenities that you could require. The daily morning breakfast was up there with the best I’ve had in any hotel or restaurant. Freshly poached eggs served on home-baked sourdough bread and smothered in smashed avocado with a side of smoked pork belly lardons was a personal favourite of mine. The location of the hotel is absolutely perfect as well, just a 2-minute dander into the heart of the V&A Waterfront where you are spoilt for choice in terms of bars, restaurants and shops. My favourite part of the whole hotel was the rooftop bar which we frequented regularly! Again, it’s a really cool spot with incredible views of Table Mountain and the Waterfront, the perfect place for a late afternoon sundowner (or two!).
Raddison Red Rooftop (Left) Rickety Bridge Winery (Right)
Pearl Valley – Paarl – Picturesque Perfection
Our first round in the Cape was at the extremely highly regarded Pearl Valley Golf Estate. It’s about an hour’s drive from Cape Town into the beautiful Cape Winelands where rolling vineyards are bordered by the towering Drakenstein Mountains. The main towns of Paarl, Stellenbosch and Franschhoek are beautiful, rich in culture and history as well as being home to some of the best eateries in the country, not to mention the numerous world-class wineries. It just so happens that the Cape Winelands always plays host to some of the best golf courses in the country, one of them being Pearl Valley.
Pearl Valley holds the acclaim of being a Jack Nicklaus Signature Design, and from the moment you arrive, it’s clearly evident why it was awarded the Signature status. Laid out within a 500-acre private residential estate Pearl Valley is one of the most visually beautiful courses imaginable. Blazing white bunkers stand out strikingly against the blue and emerald hues of the perfectly manicured fairways and abundant water features that play an integral role in guarding the course.
The layout is very intelligently thought out with all 8 par 3’s and 5’s playing in different directions to ensure that the winter northwesterly and summer southeasterly winds are not experienced from the same direction on any of those 8 holes. We had yet another perfect day with clear blue skies and a rather pleasant 25 degrees. I couldn’t stop myself from taking photos throughout the round as it was just that scenic with the mountains making the most stunning backdrop. It really does rate as one of the nicest courses I’ve played and possibly the prettiest. There’s a reason Pearl Valley has hosted multiple SA opens and constantly ranks in the top 10 courses in the country. The only downside was seeing my opponent hole a 15-footer on the last to win the match!
Wine tasting at Rickety Bridge – wine and cheese has never tasted so good
After golf, we headed over to Rickety Bridge Winery which is one of the top wine estates in the country. They produce some of the finest wines in the country supplying many of the top restaurants, we had the pleasure of sampling a delightful 6-course wine tasting accompanied by some delightful meat and cheese platters. Perhaps it was the picturesque surroundings or the sun setting behind the mountains, but wine and cheese has never tasted so good. Mark is a friend of the owner and we made Rickety Bridge our wine of choice at a number of other dinners.
The following morning we had planned a day trip to explore the Cape Peninsula and of course, Table Mountain. Table Mountain is probably the most iconic and recognisable sight in Cape Town, three and a half thousand feet of sandstone is hard to miss! Getting the cable car up the top is a must do experience as the views overlooking the city with Robben Island on the horizon are absolutely phenomenal. The weather was once again clear, warm and sunny giving us maximum visibility over the city and all the way down Cape Peninsula.
Cape Town – Clovelly Country Club – Warm Welcoming Locals Golf Club
Our next round of golf came at Clovelly County Club which I was eager to play as I had heard it such great things from many of our clients. Situated in Fish Hoek, Cape Town, Clovelly is no more than 40 minutes from the V&A Waterfront. It’s much more of a member club rather than a resort course and therefore had such a lovely warm welcoming feeling as we arrived and checked in at the pro shop. Another very well laid out and extremely pretty course, luscious, green and settled in a valley between mountains, Clovelly did not disappoint on the eye. I really enjoyed the round as the course was very scoreable and seemed to suit my eye. A combination of short risk and reward par 4s paired with a couple of 90-degree doglegs will certainly require you to think your way around the course. Luckily, I was able to think my way around quite well and put together my best score so far, but it still wasn’t good enough to win my match, the drought goes on! For Mark, it was his day and he took the victor’s spoils with 38 points!
“Top class golf, the food and drink were superb and the value for money blew everyone away”
We had an unforgettable five days in Cape Town. The golf was top class golf, the food and drink were superb and the value for money blew everyone away as we settled every bill. One or two nights out on the infamous Long Street were thoroughly enjoyed and it was great to see the old boys feel young again! At least until the next morning.
Mossel Bay – Pinnacle Point – Golf At Its Most Dramatic
Our next stop was one that I was really looking forward to. Pinnacle Point Golf Estate. On my last visit to Pinnacle Point, I had walked off the course and described it as the most fun I have ever had on a golf course. The course is set along the rugged Mossel Bay coastline and features some of the most dramatic scenery you are ever likely to witness. The Darren Clarke and Peter Matkovich design will take your breath away from start to finish with Tee boxes elevated 100 feet above fairways that meander down towards the ocean, risk and reward tee shots that encourage you to play across the cliffs and views out across the Indian Ocean where nothing stands between you and Antarctica itself.
The golfing highlight of the trip came for me at the par 5 fifth, one of my favourite holes on the course with fond memories of eagling it last time out. I followed the exact same procedure as last time, cutting off as much of the corner as I dared with enough distance to carry all the fairway bunkers and catch the downslope. That left me a full blooded 8 iron from 175 yards downhill which I pushed to the back of the green leaving myself a 40-foot double, possibly triple breaking putt. I stepped up and took a near half swing to get the ball across the entire green over every ridge and undulation and through some absolute miracle it found its way to the bottom of the cup! Never in doubt, I said. Played the hole twice, eagled it twice. Who knows what’ll happen on my next visit! My partner and I cruised to a 3-up lead with 4 holes to play and seemingly the match secured. I’d rather not discuss what happened next but let’s just say, the drought goes on!
That evening we had another delicious meal at Pinnacle Point including an array of starters, main courses and beers all for a grand total of around £11 each! The value for money will continue to amaze you and it’s impossible to get used to! We followed dinner with a trip to the casino for a bit of fun and managed to all successfully come out in some form of profit, who says the house always wins!
George – Fancourt – Golfing Heaven
We departed Pinnacle Point in the morning and made our way down the coast to George where lies the famous Fancourt Golf Estate. South Africa’s premier golf and spa estate sprawls across over 600 hectares of lush countryside with the majestic Outeniqua Mountains as the perfect backdrop. Featuring three championship golf courses all of which are ranked in the country’s top 15 including South Africa’s number 1 rated, The Links at Fancourt. On top of this, there is an abundance of top-class practice facilities, a beautiful spa as well as several superb dining options. The hotel rooms are absolutely magnificent as well, we were lucky enough to be staying in their classic rooms which had been built to house the players for the 2003 Presidents Cup played at The Links. It was fascinating to think that the likes of Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson could have been staying in these very rooms. They have of course been delightfully refurbished since the Presidents Cup, spacious, luxurious, sleek and wonderfully comfortable.
When we arrived, we dropped our bags and headed straight up to the legendary Links at Fancourt which is on site but requires a short transfer from the main hotel. A warm welcome awaits you at the front gates were the security guards give you an introduction to the club and inform you that you are about to play the number 1 rated course in the country. It was great to meet up with Leroy Ferreira again who is the Corporate Sales manager at Fancourt and hosted me last time I was there. He kindly poured us some whisky or “aiming juice” on the first tee as we set off. This was my second time taking on the Links and I was just as blown away as the first time. The Gary Player design is quite simply an absolute masterpiece and in his own words his greatest achievement as a course designer.
It’s still staggering to think that this was the site of the old George Airport and therefore completely flat. Every single ounce of the 700,000 cubic yards of soil that was shipped in has been sculpted to perfection creating dunes that rise up to 20 feet high. The Links rates as not only the best course in the country but also the toughest. An abundance of well-played bunkers, daunting tee shots and lightning fast greens make it a challenge to even the best of golfers. Even for the higher handicap golfers I still think it is absolutely essential to play at least once just to experience the sheer magnitude of this work of art, no matter how many shots it takes you to get around you will still walk off the 18th green smiling knowing you’ve just witnessed something very special indeed. Leroy and I teamed up against my arch nemesis of the trip who had beaten me every single day we played. The quality of the course seemed to inspire me to play some of my best golf, I made it round to the halfway house 4 over with 18 points playing to my handicap. I had been looking forward to the halfway house as I had such fond memories of my last visit, most halfway houses consist of a quick sandwich or perhaps and pie and some chips, not at The Links at Fancourt.
You pre-order on the first tee box from a menu consisting of a mouth-watering selection of light bites that wouldn’t be out of place in a top restaurant. As you walk into the halfway house overlooking the 9th green your meal is waiting for you under a silver cloche. The perfect way to fuel up for a tough back 9. Leroy and I had built a commanding lead and once again I found myself 3 up with 3 to play. Lightning couldn’t strike twice, could it? Somehow, we found ourselves heading down the 18th just 1 up needing a half for the win. I had managed to send my drive into Dr Plattner’s front garden who is the successful German businessman that founded tech giant SAP and proud owner of Fancourt Estate itself. Therefore, I left it up to Leroy to secure the half and ultimately the match. He left himself a 4-footer to finish things off and to this day I’m still convinced he missed it on purpose to keep the other guests happy! The Links experience is completed as you are greeted on the 18th green by waiters with cooling mint and lime infused towels and sherries. The Links at Fancourt is truly an experience that will live with you forever.
The following morning, we enjoyed yet another magnificent buffet breakfast with a selection so broad you could spend a week there and not cover half of it! If you fancy eggs benedict served with fillet steak washed down with a glass of prosecco, it’s all there for you, and I say why not whilst you’re on holiday!
It was then out to make use of the amazing practice facilities before our round on The Montagu Course at Fancourt. The Montagu is another parkland classic Gary Player design, as always it was in spectacular condition with immaculately manicured greens and fairways. The condition of the course, as well as the classic layout with tree-lined fairways and water hazards galore, has earned it the number 6 rank for golf courses in the country. Championship course’s in their own rights, The Montagu and The Outeniqua at Fancourt are courses that you could happily play at least a couple of times during your stay at Fancourt. I finally managed to break my duck and get my first win of the trip, it only took 8 rounds!
Knysna – Thiesen Island & Simola – Charming Lagoon Town & World Class Golf
Our final stop of the trip was the beautiful Lagoon Town of Knysna where we were staying on Thiesen Island in the stunning Turbine Hotel. This 5-star boutique hotel has been expertly designed around some of the original Turbines which celebrates the rich culture of Knysna as an old shipping town. It’s fascinating just to walk around the property and marvel at the architecture. That evening we headed out for dinner just a stone throw away for some delicious tapas whilst watching the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black. It was an early night as we prepared for our final game of the trip, and perhaps the most important.
We woke to another beautiful morning and as I took in the sunrise from the balcony of our superb room overlooking the lagoon I thought to myself I could quite happily stay here forever! Today was the highly anticipated heavyweight clash between team Northern Ireland and team South Africa. Scott Edkins of Ascot Travel, who we at Chaka Travel have been in partnership for over 24 years, had organised a team of eight friends to take on us seven lads from Northern Ireland, plus Werner also from Ascot Tours who is a born in bred SAFA but still has some Irish somewhere in his heart! The battle was to be staged at Simola Golf Course which is probably the round I was most excited for as I hadn’t had a chance to play it last time I was over and had heard such good things from clients and friends. Simola Golf and Country Estate is yet another Signature Jack Nicklaus design and one that will blow you away from the moment you arrive. We walked into the clubhouse to meet our opponents and immediately realised what kind of day it was going to be as the practice ground & putting green were subbed out for a couple of pre-match pints! The craic was already brilliant, and we hadn’t even got around to stepping onto the course yet. The bar balcony looks out over the course which sits below you in a gorgeous lush valley to whet the appetite before teeing off. The course vastly exceeded my expectations and quickly made it into one of my top 5 courses I have ever had the pleasure of playing.
Werner and I were reunited after my last trip to SA which he hosted me on and we had a great time catching up over a few beers and some distinctly average golf! Regardless of the poor standard of our own golfing ability, we had a fascinating and fiercely competitive match that was neck and neck throughout right down to the final shot! We ended up tying the match on the 18th green and shaking hands over what was a fair result. A combination of the banter, the perfect weather, the early beers and stunning course made it truly one of the most enjoyable rounds of golf I’ve ever played. Once all the scores were added up the news emerged that team Northern Ireland (led by a huge win by Mark’s pair against Scott’s!) had done enough to take home the trophy and we celebrated with some good old fashioned Northern Irish chanting and several more beers on the balcony as the sun set behind the valley and cast the most stunning light into the sky. A perfect day was capped off with an end of tour dinner in a restaurant that Scott had closed off for our own private function just across the road from our hotel. Team Northern Ireland and team South Africa went long into the night discussing the day’s golf and building friendships that will hopefully see us all meet up at some point in the future. We won the golf, but we’ll call the drinking competition an even half.
All in all, it was the perfect ending to a perfect trip. Myself, Mark and all the guys had the most amazing time and I’m certain that it won’t be the last time each and every one of us visits South Africa. World class golf, delicious food & wine, stunning scenery and warm welcoming African hospitality is more than enough to keep you coming back year after year.
Many thanks to Mark, Andy, Dick, Dave, Richard and Sinky for all the laughs, what a great bunch of guys, I’d say more but what happens on tour stays on tour!